1. Keep it short.
An hour to and hour and a half is ideal. It may seem like the blink of an eye to you but to a preschooler that’s lots of time. You can build up to a longer time once the children are truly at ease with one another and the other parents and are comfortable in someone else’s environment.
End on a happy note.
Keep them wanting more. Don’t wait until they have had their fill of one another to end the play. They should leave with the memory of having fun together and wanting to continue to spend time together again.
Remember it’s not about you.
Your goal is to build relationships with their peers and for the children to practice social skills of sharing, expressing themselves, cooperation, and following someone else’s rules.
You don’t need to be friends with the other parent to let your child develop a friendship. If you are friends, remember to tune in to the children and set a time to leave (see tip #1). It’s easy to feel like you haven’t had enough time together as adults.
Put controversial toys away & keep it simple.
If you are spending time at your home, do yourself a favor and put away your child’s new, awesome, most favorite toy that will be hard to share. Have a conversation with your child about this. Explain that because it’s so special, you wouldn’t want it to break or have the children argue about taking turns. They can build up to sharing those special things.
Being at someone else’s house is exciting and cool (and sometimes overwhelming). Have a plan for simple activities such as a game, making playdough, or playing outside in your yard. This helps guide the kids rather than causing them to feel like they don’t know where to begin.
Neutral territory is good for everyone (especially first time playdates).
Don’t stress yourself out thinking your house has to be big enough or clean and perfect to host a playdate. Meet at a neutral spot like a playground, gym, library, or even coffee shop. This allows the kids to be on equal ground and one does not have ownership over the where, how, and what to play. Most often, we hear about how the kids saw each other at the grocery store, library, or swim class rather than the super awesome playdate at someone’s house.
Wait until the last minute to tell your child about the playdate.
There’s nothing worse than planning a playdate and having your child look forward to it for days, then to have something come up causing it to be cancelled or rescheduled. Waiting also eliminates the conversation at school which can cause others to feel left out and your children to be consumed by the idea of spending time together outside of school. If the other parent is picking your child up from school, explain it that morning and tell your child you will meet them later, don’t go into it too much which could cause worry or overexcitement.
If you are planning to meet at a neutral location (see tip #5), you can “bump into” the other family. Kids think that’s so cool! That way, you can prep your child that you are going to the park, store, etc, and then if something comes up you don’t have to alter your plans and no one is disappointed.
Keep kids safe.
Make sure you have communicated important information including cell phone numbers, allergies, and fears (dogs, the dark, etc). It’s important that the other parent knows bathrooming habits (might need help wiping, unbuttoning, etc) so your child will be comfortable. Before they begin to play, go over house rules such as when and where it’s ok to go etc. Remember this is a new environment for the other child. Be sure the kids are in sightlines and/or earshot. Sometimes kids get crazy ideas when they put their heads together.
When my son was 4, we invited a new school friend over. While his mom and I had coffee in the kitchen, the boys figured out how to open his bedroom window and came up with the idea to throw the contents of his bookshelf out into our yard. We thought they were just having a great time as we heard laughter every time a book went flying! (I should note, there was a safety rail so they couldn’t get out themselves.)